Inspired by Freize, I compiled a semi-serious FAQ around art shows.
Vernissage. Why do we use a French word?
It comes from the French word for “varnishing,” and these days means simply preview. Its origins are linked to the Royal Academy of Arts in London: the day before a show’s official opening the artists were allowed to add a final layer of varnish to their paintings, while art professionals and critics were allowed to preview the show. These days the word is used for private views in many contexts: exhibitions, fairs, and private galleries.
How shall I approach an art fair?
Do not expect to see everything. Be prepared to encounter crowds, queues for the cloakroom, as if you were attending a concert or a theatre show. It might sound obvious, but buy your ticket in advance. Go if you are keen to see prominent and commercially valuable artists, cutting-edge art trends and do incredible people watching. Be prepared to rub your shoulders with two typed of people: the uber rich and the obsessive collectors.
Two highlights from this short week. On Tuesday at Freize Masters I witnessed an Italian man having a very angry conversation with his art advisor. The poor advisor just failed to grant him at an auction a new piece for his collection.
On Monday at PAD Italians, French and Germans were compulsory- buying limited editions furniture like I would buy Haribo in a candy shop.
You do not see these things on your average day.
Lots of plastic surgery, on average not very well executed. You are supposed to look fresh, not plastic. High heels and plenty of statement bags.
What is a VIP programme?
A card gets sent to your address and magically all doors open for you. You are granted access and exclusive experiences. What you probably do not know when you receive the magic card, is there are usually at least three layers of VIP tickets, bronze, silver and gold. You can get a private car and a driver for the duration of the fair, early admission to the fair, and open doors to various extra-special events. Post opening dinner, after parties, curatorial expertise at your fingertips to name a few. If you’re a bronze VIP, usually all you get is a chance to browse the show before the rest of the population and – but not always – a glass of wine or Pommery if you are very lucky – in your hands. This year I didn’t feel very lucky and had to pay for my own booze at both Freizes during the previews. What is the point of having a drinks sponsor? PAD was much better catered. And very conveniently located in Berkeley Square.
So many fairs! Which is worth attending?
Stick to the biggest and grandest: Armory, Frieze, Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach. You get the best gallery and the largest selection. Tickets are not cheap, but you get a decent value for money and few hours of entertainment.
If I want to buy, can you ask for a discount?
You have to! However, even in the art world, life is unfair. If Abramovich asks for a discount, he is probably more likely to get it than me, being a massive art collector and being someone who spens annually on art the equivalent of a small country’s GDP . Museums get discounts: if an artist features in a museum can reach a critical mass, becomes more recognisable and raises their profile and automatically prices.
The other way of getting discounts is waiting. You can pick up bargains, and leftovers, on the last day of a fair. Dealers would do anything to lower their shipping costs.
What should you wear to one of these things?
While most of the art professionals you’ll see around you are usually decked out all in full black or expensive prints – Marni for the rich and famous and Cos for everyone else – any outfit is pretty much acceptable. Wear black, like an existentialist, and you will fit in perfectly.
You will see a lot of groomed bears, perfect and impeccable blow drys, Laboutins and Ferragamo shoes and sharply cut suits, bespoke specs. And the usual botox party delegation.
The scruffy look is also acceptable. People will assume you are an artist and not a buyer.